Supporting a New Generation of Leaders: Youth Organizing and Youth Development
The Youth Power Project at Make the Road New York supports youth ages 14 to 21 in:
- Leading community change efforts on issues of concern to them;
- Developing critical skills in the areas of leadership, literacy, group work, community organizing, and self expression; and
- Setting and meeting ambitious personal and academic goals.
For over a decade, the Latin American Integration Center and Make the Road by Walking offered high quality youth programming which engaged young people in leading change efforts in their communities. Now, our work includes school-based programming that supports young people in accessing college and job opportunities; partnerships with two new innovative high schools that we helped to design and launch; and an array of after school programs that support young people in developing leadership, literacy, group work, and community organizing skills.
Community-Based Afterschool and Summer Programs
In our community-based programs, youth leaders work together to address some of the most intransigent problems in our communities, including police misconduct, gentrification, access to higher education for undocumented students, and high school reform. Along the way, they work to educate thousands of their peers and neighbors about these issues, and about the potential for youth to truly lead the way in making change. Additionally, they express their views on these issues through the creation of multi-media and arts projects; contribute to our well-regarded youth newspaper, The Word on the Street; and stage youth-written and acted theater productions. Project staff work collaboratively with more experienced youth leaders to structure small group activities and individual leadership opportunities that support young people in more deeply exploring the issues on which we organize, and provide engaging avenues for youth to develop skills of group work, literacy and self-expression.
This year, for the first time, youth from across our organization have come together, with new immigrant youth working out of our Queens offices working closely with US-born Latino and African American students working out of our Bushwick office, to collaborate on ongoing projects and share their experiences. Over 150 individual youth have participated in these programs in the 2008-9 school year.
Supporting Academic Success and Promoting College-Going
In the fall of 2007, MRNY established a Student Success Center at the Bushwick High School campus. Open to students from throughout the campus, the Center served over 750 students in the 2007-8 academic year. The Center is a physical space adjoining the school cafeteria, open from 10am-5pm, and students are able to use it during lunch, free periods, or after school hours. Individual support is available to students who need help with college searches, essay writing, research, financial aid or other issues.
Additionally, Center staff members liaise with the four small high schools on campus, to support their college counseling efforts and to ensure that the Center is enhancing existing services. In some cases the school defines a particular group of students that they have had trouble engaging, and the Center takes responsibility for outreach and support to those students. Center staff are also available to help schools with parent outreach, college fairs, and other individualized support.
Finally, the Center plays a critical role in the school in creating a culture of high expectations for college and post-secondary planning. Youth leaders identify key issues that present barriers to students being able to imagine themselves in college. They then design and facilitate workshops in advisories to address these barriers. Further, they are charged with mounting an overall 'P.R. campaign' in the school to promote college readiness and attendance.
Click here to visit the Student Success Center website:
In the Fall of 2002, Make the Road by Walking embarked on an ambitious partnership with a small group of educators, which resulted in the creation of the Bushwick School for Social Justice, a New York City Department of Education small public high school which saw 87% of its first senior class graduate four years later, a staggering improvement over prior abysmal graduation rates in the low-income Bushwick community.
Similarly, the Latin American Integration Center, in the fall of 2006, supported the design and creation of Pan American International, which opened as a NYC DOE program in the fall of 2007, with a class of slightly over 80 ninth graders. A member of the Internationals Network for Public Schools, Pan American serves recently-arrived immigrant students who are in the process of learning English, meeting a critical need within the NYC school system and the Queens neighborhoods from which it draws the majority of its students.
Beyond the design and launching of these schools, our organization has sustained partnerships which are unique in the city. Our efforts have contributed to the creation of exceptionally vibrant parent associations at both schools. During the school day, our community-based staff members bring local wisdom, knowledge and perspective into the classrooms of both of these schools that are too frequently missing from New York City classrooms, often providing vital avenues for validation and empowerment to the experiences of the students that we meet there. Young people from both schools, as well as their parents, become active leaders in our organization, bringing enhanced leadership, literacy, and civic skills and knowledge back into the school community.
Building a Multi-Generational Organization
Like the adults with whom we work, young people who participate in all of our activities are oriented to our mission and encouraged to join our membership. Membership for youth under 21 is free, with a commitment to begin paying dues after one’s 21st birthday. Youth members of MRNY, like other members, may access our wide array of services, elect representatives to our Board of Directors, and participate in decision-making about our organization’s community organizing campaigns and other strategic questions.
The growth of our youth program has entailed a restructuring — we now have four leadership tiers, and celebrate youth who meet the requirements for graduating from one tier to another three times per year. We also host an annual program of leadership development retreats and are building a program of curriculum and other resources that expands on our particular organizational strengths. We are well-poised to impact the lives of more young people in the years to come.
How We Work | Community Organizing | Leadership Development | Adult Education
Youth Development | Legal/Support Services | Policy Advocacy